Before Singapore became a British colony in 1819, Kampong Glam was the place where the Malay sultan lived. When the sultan agreed to a treaty with the British East India Company that same year, one of the things agreed upon was that the latter would be allowed to establish a trading area in the place. This became an important turning point in the history of Singapore as it opened its doors to greater trading opportunities.
A few years later, under the British colony, Singapore was divided into several areas according to the different existing groups, including the Chinese, the Indians, and the Malays. The Malay sultan remained where he was and was awarded large portions of land as specified in the treaty, and the place also became the residence of other Malays and the Arabs living in Singapore. Eventually, the area became a settlement for Malays and Muslims not just from Singapore but from neighboring countries as well.
Today, the place still radiates the vibrant colors of its history. Often called the “Muslim Quarter”, the area continues to have many Muslim residents particularly in Bussorah Street. Muslims often congregate at the Sultan Mosque, which is the biggest in Singapore. Many old shophouses in the area have been conserved and restored.
The most popular place in Kampong Glam is Arab Street. So named because the place used to be owned by an Arab tradesman, it is now the home of shophouses selling different kinds of goods, such as textiles, Sonkoks, crafts, artwork, food, and spices. The silk materials and batik sold in Arab Street are particularly good.
Some shophouses have been converted into restaurants, business offices for IT firms, art galleries, and others. Some things in Arab Street may be new but the old spirit of commerce and trade is still predominant in the area. If you want great shopping steals, then catch the Kampong Glam flea market every third Sunday of each month. It starts at 10am and ends at around 6pm.
The neighboring area, Bugis, is also a popular shopping destination in Singapore. Here you will find a number of malls, such as the Iluma and the Bugis Junction. Both target the teen market with stores carrying items that appeal to this particular demographic. But what really draws crowds to Bugis is the street market, which is open daily until 11pm. The first floor is an open-air market while the other two floors are air-conditioned. Products being sold here include clothes for men and women, cosmetics, wallets, shoes, bags, and souvenirs. The items here are a steal especially during an ongoing sale, and even on regular days the prices are low.
A number of places will make your visit to Kampong Glam and Bugis areas worthwhile. The Hajjah Fatimah Mosque was built using a combination of Malay, Muslim, and British architecure. Be properly dressed if you want to visit this mosque (and any other mosque or temple), meaning you shouldn’t wear shorts, sleeveless or revealing blouses, and slippers. People also flock to the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho. Legend has it that wishes made inside this temple are granted.